January 2-6, 2023

Members sworn in; first state pay plan hearing held; chambers pass legislative operating rules.

The 68th Montana Legislature convened in Helena on Monday for its biennial 90-day session. Given that this legislature has already set a record for having the highest number of bills requested in session history, the Montana University System is anticipating a busy but productive session.

MUS Priorities

The MUS will focus on three key areas:

  • securing essential funding for campus programs, operations, and services that will help address challenges from historically high inflation;
  • obtaining a meaningful pay increase to attract and retain world-class employees across the university system; and
  • addressing critical infrastructure needs to provide safe and healthy facilities for students and staff and to provide the physical spaces and tools that drive research and innovation.

Key Hearings

On the second day of the session, the House Appropriations Committee held the first hearing on HB 13 to implement the pre-session agreement reached by Governor Gianforte and state employee unions to increase pay for public employees. The MUS strongly supported HB 13, sponsored by Representative John Fitzpatrick (R-Anaconda), on behalf of system employees. If approved, the bill would move to the full House for consideration.

A joint session of the House and Senate Education Committees met on Wednesday to review work that began last June when the legislature convened a meeting of the education-related Constitutional authorities. Topics discussed included proficiency-based education, teacher preparation and professional development, and education- related data sharing.  

Other Hearings from Week 1

HB 151, requested by the Montana Department of Administration, proposes to revise state building construction procurement laws. The MUS supported this bill along with state Architecture and Engineering Division. The bill would streamline and improve the process for campus capital projects. No opponents testified at the hearing.

HB 133 would allow nonresident college students to apply online for hunting and fishing licenses. No opponents testified at the hearing, and the bill will advance to the House floor if it is approved by the committee.

Bills to Watch

HB 197 – On Friday, a referendum was introduced to amend Article X, section 9 of the Montana Constitution, prohibiting the Board of Regents from exercising “any power that conflicts with any other provision of [the] constitution or that conflicts with a state law.” HB 197 is sponsored by Representative Jennifer Carlson (R-Manhattan).  

Session Developments

After considerable debate, the House passed HR 1, the chamber’s operating rules for the 68th Legislative Session, on a vote of 57-42. Discussion centered primarily on reducing the number of members required to remove a bill from its progression in committee to the House floor for debate. Passed with 57 votes, HR 1 lowers the threshold for blasting a bill out of committee from 60 members to 55, making it easier for a collation to form to move legislation forward.  

The Senate passed SR 1, its operating rules, on a vote of 50-0, and the House and Senate joint rules were scheduled for a vote in the Senate on January 6 after having been approved 15-0 by the Senate Rules Committee.

Upcoming Hearings and Events

January 18-24

MUS HB 2 Budget Hearings - Section E Appropriations Subcommittee

January 26

MUS HB 5 Major Repair and Capital Development Project HearingsSection F Long-Range Building Subcommittee